Gradation and Rhythm: 2 Principles of Art that Help Your Photos Stand Apart

Photo of a colony of coral in Maldives to illustrate the 6th principle of art: the rythm. Photo by Amar Guillen.
The rhythm in this photo is given by the repetition of the patterns of hard corals: it is the 6th principle of art.

Principle #4: Accentuation

One definition of accentuation is as follows:

Action, manner of using graphic accents in writing or printing.

Accentuation implies augmentation. When applied to art, accentuation is a way of combining different elements to create tension between them.

When further applied to photography, accentuation is the process of creating differences between photographic elements so that they stand out from one another.

To accentuate your photographic compositions, you have tonal contrast at your disposal. The more contrast a scene has, the more attention it will draw from a viewer. Tonal contrast is when you accentuate the differences between the lighter and darker tones in a photo.

Tonal contrast is the one you are most likely to be familiar with and that naturally comes to mind when accentuation is mentioned. But you can also create color contrasts by playing with complementary colors.

Accentuation in a photo is also about creating size contrasts with a small element contrasting with a large element.

You also have the contrast of opacity with a transparent element that is in opposition with an opaque element.

Anything that can help accentuate the differences between the photographic elements of a scene is interesting to attract the eye.

As you can see, the accentuation is in contradiction or better the opposite of the principle of harmony. You are right. They are two opposing principles. That is why you must use them wisely.

The purpose of photography is to express yourself, to convey messages, to provoke introspection and to convey feelings and emotions. You must attract attention to meet this purpose. And to accomplish this, you must use means. Harmony and emphasis are two means at your disposal.

Principle #5: Gradation

One definition of gradation is as follows:

It is a progression by successive degrees and mostly upward.

Applied to art in general, gradation is the principle of combining a series of elements by making progressive changes. For example, show small items and then large items.

If I apply this principle of gradation to photography, it is a matter of combining the different photographic elements in a progressive way. In a photograph, the idea is not to create brutal borders in the changes of form, in the lights, the contrasts, or the tones.

The principle of gradation in photography is to not create abrupt changes in your compositions.

When you have an area with a light tone, avoid juxtaposing a very dark tone. It is certain that you will create contrast and attract the eye of the viewer, but ultimately this sudden change will shock him. It will not hold his attention for long on your photo.

When photographing two shapes, make sure they complement each other. A rounded shape and a triangle shape do not mix well.

Likewise with the colors, make sure that they are gradual and progressive. You will attract and maintain the attention of the viewer longer.

This principle of gradation avoids having a dominant element that draws the eye to the detriment of other elements or the story you want to tell.

You will probably think that this principle is valid for photos with wide shots because you have several photographic elements. This is not true. For close-up photography, this principle also applies perfectly. Think about tones and shapes. Even if you are doing a close-up, you want to tell a story and your photographic elements are parts of a larger element. You need to think in gradations so that the whole composition is harmonious.

Principle #6: Rhythm

One definition of rhythm is as follows:

Order, [and] balance of a plastic or architectural work resulting from the proportion and arrangement of its parts.

But rhythm is also the return at regular intervals in time of a fact, of a phenomenon.

In art, the principle of rhythm designates the placement of elements that are repeated to give the illusion of movement. It thus becomes the tempo of a work.

In photography, rhythm is often evoked by patterns. Properly arranged in a photograph, they can create movement and direct a person's gaze in a given direction.

An example of this is the repetition of pebbles on a beach.

Generally speaking, rhythm in photography is obtained by repeating the same shape or figure. Often these forms are geometric.

But there are also forms of rhythm that are not geometric. They are for example clouds or waves on the surface of the water.

Rhythm can also be suggested by the repetition of a color or a tone. It is sometimes interesting to break the rhythm to avoid monotony. This way you can attract and hold the viewer's attention.

Principle #7: Variety

A definition of variety is as follows:

Character of something whose elements are diverse, [and] different.

Applied to art, variety is about the diversity of elements and contrast.

Variety is achieved by using different figures, shapes, sizes, tones, and colors.

If we apply this principle of variety to photography, it implies placing different photographic elements in a composition.

Variety is the opposite of uniqueness. Yet it is uniqueness that comes to mind when we talk about photography. It is indeed about placing a main subject within a composition to express oneself and impact the consciousness of a viewer.

You may have learned that if you put too many elements in a photo, you'll complicate the image and make it hard to read. Variety in photography is not about adding elements in a haphazard way just to fill the frame. It's about adding photographic elements to reinforce the message and accentuate the main subject.

By creating variety in a photo, you will create movement and tempo. Variety in a photographic composition allows you to break the rhythm.

A photo can very well respect the principle of variety while showing uniqueness. This is for example the case of a group of birds. The uniqueness is given by the group of birds. The variety is given by the different species.

Sometimes it is interesting to apply this principle of variety in a composition, because you need secondary elements to reinforce the main element. For example, you photograph a tree that is majestic. You can reinforce it with clouds or rocks to show its power and its strength.

If you are creating minimalist photos, this notion of variety will not be useful, because you will want to focus a viewer's attention on the main photographic element.

The principle of variety will depend on your style and your photographic vision.

You should especially remember that you should not add unnecessary photographic elements to your compositions. They will become disruptive, and they prevent the reading of your photos.

Principle #8: Movement

One of the definitions of the movement is the following:

Rhythm is an artistic work, a narrative, an intonation.

The principle of movement in art is to create the illusion and feeling of action.

Photography consists in reproducing a world in three “dynamic” dimensions, which is dynamic, on a support of two “static” dimensions.

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The movement in photography can only be suggested. It cannot be real.

We can only give the impression of movement. It is the imagination and awareness of the viewer that will create the real movement.

In photography, to create movement, you have different techniques at your disposal:

  • Motion blur.
  • Position of the subject against the background.

These effects can be obtained directly at the shooting with low speeds. But they can be created in post-processing with software. It is necessary that the subject is clearly detached from the background.


I hope this article on the 8 Principles of Art and how to apply them to photography has opened some new creative avenues for you to explore in your future photos.

This article must be associated with the article on the 7 Elements of Art.

Each photographic creation does not necessarily apply to these 8 Principles. They are the foundations on which they are built and constructed. It is all a question of dosage and balance.

The artistic photos of interest were made by applying one or more principles.

For me, knowing these 8 Principles of Art is essential. Every photographer should know them by heart to build his pictures. Indeed, why reinvent the wheel when other people have already thought about it and created a foundation that is reliable and strong.

I am aware that I have not gone into all these concepts in great depth. I have given you the basics and the most important ones. Now that you have read the basics, all that is left for you to do is research and choose the concepts that you wish to apply to your photographic process. I wish you all the best on this next chapter in your photographic journey.

Be humble, patient, constant, persevering, and persistent because the road to excellence is long.

I Want to Help You to Create Interesting Photos